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The mom that brought goth back to GSO

by Chris Lowrance

When I meet her for lunch in downtown Greensboro, Maria Wallis already has a beer and a cigarette. She looks good for having not slept in 24 hours, spending last night driving back from a Combichrist concert in Charlotte. She’s relatively nondescript in a black collared shirt and blue jeans. Brown shoulder-length hair falls in spikes over the big sunglasses she wears despite the overcast weather. The large Celtic cross pendant stands out a bit, as do the black “stomping a face forever” boots I wouldn’t mind stealing if they fit me, but in general Maria would only turn one, maybe two heads this afternoon. If I didn’t know, I’d never suspect Wallis of being the Triad’s very own fairy goth-mother.

Cheesy, I know, but it fits. Maria’s role as a married mother of two and her history with the goth-industrial scene run hand-in-hand. Originally from New York, Maria says she was into punk and goth from the old days. An artist and teacher, she planned to chase the typical Greenwich Village pipe dream until she met her husband and became a young mother.

“Then it was all Barney and Power Rangers,” she tells me. “I wasn’t exactly a soccer mom, you know, but I wasn’t really in the scene anymore.”

When her first son, Sean, discovered industrial, he was actually afraid of his mom’s reaction.

“He hid his Marilyn Manson CDs from me!” Maria says. “I asked him if he remembered going to our neighbor’s house when he was six years old.”

The Wallises lived in Florida at the time, and a neighbor invited them to a party for his son, who had just been in a video. “He didn’t tell us what it was,” Maria says. “So we go over there, and pretty soon Sean comes running up, crying and wanting to go home because ‘Some weird man stuck a snake in my face!'”

She later found out the mysterious video was for Marilyn Manson’s single “Lunchbox”, and the man with the snake was Manson’s bassist Twiggy Ramirez. Maria missed out on meeting the entire band, as well as Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails.

“I wanted to kick [Sean’s] ass for that!” she laughs. “And here he was, years later, thinking he had to hide the CD from me or I’d explode!”

Sean would make it up to her though, after becoming “Gogo Blank,” bassist for the Charlotte-based industrial-pop band Astrid Haven. He began bringing Maria out to Purgatory, a bimonthly event put on by the NC fetish/goth-industrial production company Single Cell. “Can you imagine wanting to go to a show with your mother?” Maria laughs. “I would never take my mom to a concert.”

Before long, Maria found herself returning to her roots, building and designing sets for Purgatory. Known in the scene as “Mother Blank,” Maria credits her son for bringing her full-circle.

“Sean got me back,” she says.

Last April, Sean was contacted by the former owner of Dizzy Gs, the rave venue that once hosted the last goth event in Greensboro six years ago. He now owned the Underground, a space beneath the infamous Coliseum Inn once occupied by indie-rock staple Ace’s Basement. He wanted Sean to resurrect the goth scene in Greensboro. Sean couldn’t do it, but he knew who could.

“I had a lot of connections in Charlotte,” Maria tells me, not least of which was Single Cell. “We’re trying to collaborate, bring it up here. I want to make North Carolina the happening place for goth and industrial.”

By May, Maria had redecorated the Underground herself, rounded up a decent sound system and created Nihilism, Greensboro’s first regular goth-industrial event in over a half decade. With no budget, she depends largely on friends and the kindness of the goth community to pull of the monthly event and it’s visual-arts sister, Profusion. For instance, security consists of her husband, a biker who apparently has a knack for keeping order.

“The cops showed up the other night,” Maria tells me. “We were like, ‘Oh shit, what did we do.’ They came up to my husband and said ‘We just wanted to let you know what a great job you’re doing with moving people through and keeping things orderly.’ They told us they wished all the clubs would do what we do.

“We want to be the new CBGB,” Maria continues. “These are high hopes, I know, but I mean… we just want to have that underground spirit, you know? Where everyone’s welcome, no one feels left out. A space for anything.”

As both a dutiful mother and promoter, Maria doesn’t forget to get her plugs in as we pay our tab. She calls Sean to find out the date of the massive Halloween show Astrid Haven hosts in Charlotte (Sihk-or-Treat, and it’s October 28). She double-checks my spelling of DJ Lechter, the DJ famous up the East Coast for Purgatory, who has been instrumental in helping Maria book shows. She says we should hang out sometime, which is true, but we’ll see how she feels after this column goes to press.

And then our fairy goth-mother goes to get some sleep, post some flyers and raise a city’s subculture back from the dead.

Turn Chris’s pumpkin into a hearse when you e-mail him at chris@yesweekly.com.

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